Monday, February 27, 2006

Must Read: "Reflections On A 4-Year Labor Strike"

Reflections on a 4-Year Labor Strike, is a powerful essay contributed to the Daily Kos website yesterday about a woman's experiences during her stepfather's four year labor strike in the late '80s.

It's particularly important reading these days as union strength declines at the same time workers need representation most. It gives meaning to the words "solidarity" and "struggle," and exposes that lie that 'unions might have served a purpose in the olden days, but in these modern times....."

Read it and pass it on.

So it begins:
When I was a freshman in high school in a little town in northern Wyoming, my stepdad, one of 200+ union mine workers at a nearby mine, voted to strike at 12:01 AM on October 1st, 1987. It was a strike that would last four years and in the process, change our family, our town, and our futures forever.

From the day he started working in his first mine, he'd been a union member. He believed in unions as surely as he believed in the Bible, and preached the virtues of the labor movement like it was the Word of God. By the time he met my mom, he was a strike captain in the United Mine Workers of America, Local #1972. He was also a hardcore Democrat and as far as he was concerned, union and Democrat were one and the same: they both champion the little guy, the one who doesn't have the advantage of wealth or power or fame, they both value the integrity of hard work, they both trust in the power of the ordinary to do extraordinary things...they both believe that together, we are mighty.

And so it ends
I think sometimes, especially in the first couple of years after the strike ended, my parents and the rest of the striking miners and their families probably looked back on the strike and wondered what they'd been fighting for, considering how it all turned out. What had they accomplished, really? All that sacrifice and heartache...for what?

For the future, is the answer. Watching my parents' struggle, this fight that seemed so impossible, we learned first-hand just what it really means to stand up for what you believe in. The words are easy to say and talk, as they say, is cheap. But when it comes down to it, to gambling your future, your family's future, on a principle and a trust in the people who share your beliefs, the actual act of standing up, fist held high, is one of the most courageous things you can ever do.


I've always been an activist at heart, either because of the way I was raised or the way my DNA lined up or a combination of both. But in the years since the strike, my natural tendency to tilt at windmills has been tempered by the understanding of what it means: you fight every day, not because of what you hope to achieve, but because it's the right thing to do. You'll never be guaranteed a win, no matter how righteous your cause; fighting the good fight doesn't mean you get a happy ending. But you fight for what's right anyway, because it's what's right. And if you're very, very lucky, others will stand to fight alongside you. This is how great changes happen.
Now go read the whole thing. You'll be glad you did.